Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus, is Maryland’s smallest owl, and is rarely seen in Frederick County. They are an endangered, threatened migratory bird. They are preyed upon by other owls and raptors. Sometimes they winter over in Maryland and are found most often in the western part of the state. These North American native owls are one of the smallest— smaller than the Screech Owl, and are about the size of an American robin.

Photo courtesy of

Saw-Whets are so named because of their call, suggesting the sound of a saw blade being sharpened. Others have described the call as sounding like a pan flute playing a single pulsed note repeatedly for long periods.

This small owl has no ear tufts, has mottled brown to reddish color. It has a whitish face with a white spots on the head, black beak, and yellow eyes. It is quite a shy and attractive little bird. It has excellent hearing, and uses the difference in time of arrival and amplitude of sounds to locate its prey on even the darkest of nights.

Saw-Whet Owls are nocturnal forest birds which roost mostly at eye height in dense cover, most often in thick cover of evergreens next to the trunk. They feed mostly on small mammals such as mice and voles.

Nesting is mostly in abandoned woodpecker holes or other tree cavities. The female lays a clutch of 4-6 eggs, and when the young birds hatch, she feeds them while the male hunts. The female will sometimes leave the young to the complete care of the male, breed with a second male, and raise a second hatch in a single season.

Extensive efforts have been made by various groups, including some from the Frederick area, to net and band the Saw-Whet during the migratory seasons in a effort to better understand the migratory patterns and to access their numbers.

Video from Youtube

Article by Claude Eans, FCFCDB Member

Nature Note for 6/16/2019